HAMPSHIRE are without Jackson Bird AND Andre Adams for their opening LV County Championship match against Sussex – so 18 year-old Brad Wheal could make his debut.

Bird and Adams signed for the first three months of the season but are unfit for the first game, which starts at The Ageas Bowl tomorrow, so Wheal has been named in a 12-man squad for the visit of Sussex.

The South African British passport holder intends to qualify for England during the next seven years after being brought over from Durban by Dale Benkenstein, who spotted Wheal playing for Natal Under-19s in December.

Originally the plan was for Wheal to start the season for Hampshire’s Second XI against Dorset at Dean Park on Sunday. But so impressive has he been in pre-season that he was the obvious choice when Adams and Bird became unavailable.

Liam Dawson reckons Wheal is the real deal (see page 36) and Adams is also effusive about the tyro, who took two wickets in the two-day friendly against Kent earlier this week.

He said: “When he first came over we knew he was a promising youngster but didn’t expect him to be where he is at this point.

“He’s got a bit of extra zip, stands the seam up and can swing it away from right-handers.

“He’s a nice option to have and he offers something a bit different if Andre and Jackson aren’t there.

“We had a feeling that Andre might need a bit more time. Losing Jackson is a blow, but they should be okay for next week against Warwickshire and we felt it best to err on the side of caution.

“In an ideal world he would be a long-term prospect but he’ll be pushing hard for selection all year. It’s great for us knowing he’s in the ranks.

“He’s one of those bowlers who’s fairly languid as he approaches the crease but hits it hard and is quicker than you expect.

“I think he’ll surprise a few people whatever level he plays at.”

New signing Gareth Berg is also likely to make his Hampshire debut, which would be his first game for a year after a freak shoulder infection ended his Middlesex career.

A long-term Achilles injury means Matt Prior is unavailable for Sussex and Luke Wright, Bird’s Melbourne Stars teammate, is a doubt after retiring hurt with an elbow injury during a friendly against Surrey this week.

But in contrast to Hampshire, Sussex have two new strike bowlers expected to be available tomorrow in Ajmal Shahzad and Tymal Mills, the left-arm speedster signed from Essex.

They augment an attack led by Steve Magoffin, who was the leading bowler in the country with 72 wickets at 19 apiece last year.

“Sussex will have a strong attack,” added Adams, who is preparing to captain in the first division for the first time. “Steve Magoffin is a highly-skilled bowler and the rest of their attack offers something different. Then there’s the extra pace of Mills.

“It will be a step up, but it’s going to be good to pit our wits against better teams.”